Ana Popovic is no stranger to Columbia. The Serbian-born blueswoman has played the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival twice, a 9th Street Summerfest and a few additional dates at Missouri Theatre and the Blue Note.
“I still remember the show,” Popovic said of her first Roots N Blues appearance in 2009. “Then we came back a few times and it’s always a great crowd. The crowd knows music and knows blues and knows how to party,” Popovic said.
Popovic returns Sept. 29 to the Missouri Theatre for another party. Currently, Popovic is touring behind her latest album, “Trilogy,” which dropped in May.
“It’s a mix of musical styles: blues, soul, jazz, funk. It’s on three volumes and features about 30 musicians, mostly from New Orleans or Memphis,” Popovic said.
Blues in the morning
The blues could almost be used to teach U.S. geography. Subgenres are easily mapped: Chicago blues, Texas blues, West Coast blues, Memphis blues.
Although Belgrade is a long way from Memphis — 5,408 miles as the crow flies — it never occurred to Popovic that she was growing up a world away from the blues mecca. And Popovic’s father, a devotee to the genre, introduced her to it early.
“I grew up on the Stax sound. There were playing and listening to blues — real Delta stuff. I was 3 or 4 years old and hearing on a daily basis Elmore James, Elmer Johnson … I grew up thinking that was what the whole world was listening to. It was the most natural thing. I woke up in the morning and my dad plays loud Albert King,” Popovic said.
At night, other musicians from around town would join her father for regular jam sessions in their home.
“That was the best way to spend an evening. I thought I was going to learn guitar just so I could jam with these guys. I learned slide guitar by myself. They did not have anybody playing slide in Belgrade, so I would get my five minutes of fame,” Popovic said.
But five minutes turned into 25 years, and a career that has taken her all over the globe.
The blues records her father played for her when she was young certainly made a lasting impression on her, but Popovic credits her evolving sound to time spent in major blues hubs.
“When I record, I don’t just rush into the studio but spend time and get to know people and inhale the city. I spent time in New Orleans recording an album. I’d take three or four months, rent a place, enjoy the city. A lot of people make the mistake: Rush to Memphis and they call that the Memphis record,” Popovic said.
Memphis has been especially meaningful for Popovic. Critics often note the Memphis flair to her style, and although she’d intended to stay only for a few months, she wound up making it her home for four years.
“Probably the best thing about living in Memphis you’re so close to so many different sounds. Now I’m on the West Coast,” said Popovic, who recently relocated to Los Angeles. “It was always on my to-do list. I moved here two months ago. Who knows how long? I think I’m going to get into that urban guitar style,” Popovic said.
Still, Popovic emphasizes that while these regional styles influence her, they do not define her.
“Wherever I live, wherever I record, I go and do my thing, whatever it is. Even if I say I’m doing a New Orleans record, it’s still an Ana Popovic record,” Popovic said.
What it means to make an Ana Popovic record is to stay true to true blues structures while asserting herself in other ways.
“In blues, it’s not easy because you are dealing with 12-bar blues, two or three chord changes. … You can’t change too much because it’s going to become rock or heavy metal or jazz. So you have to stick to original form, but at same time come up with original phrasing that is different. As far as my sound, the phrasing is a little times jazzier than the blues players. It’s got a little bit more attack. I’m not that laid back,” Popovic said.
7 p.m. Sept. 29
Story by Caroline Dohack